The current scandals in the headlines, and a general distrust of government, there is a vital need for future government leaders to tap into innovation products/services, and move at the speed of the private sector while recognizing the importance and necessity of ethical behavior and operating in a complex procurement environment.
At Syracuse University, I teach a course entitled eGovernment Concepts and Practices. It is a popular course, in part because navigating the complex government procurement environment while taking advantage of cutting-edge technologies that are often available outside the federal integrator world, are not often talked about in government technology courses. As an experienced government executive myself, I believe one of the most important things we can teach public policy students who are pursuing government leadership positions is how to navigate federal contracting by applying business ethics in this unique work environment.
Private sector solutions are more frequently sought as solutions to problems by government professionals in today’s fast changing landscape. But, simply put, trying to keep-up with private sector while working through a procurement process which is complex, methodical, and sometimes does not keep up with this pace of change, often producing gray areas, ethical business questions and mismanagement issues as we have seen played out in the recent media headlines. This scenario is being played out every day in the media. Even as we try to manage our response to concerns about Ebola, there are private sector solutions being hired to deal with the hazardous waste, and if the wrong solution is applied, it can lead to public outcry, such as the “Cleaning Guys” Hazmat group hired in Texas to handle possible hazardous materials, recently pointed out by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. More seriously, the accusations of graft and corruption involving government contracts being procured in the private sector is increasing at an alarming rate. Often the root cause is good intention and ethical private sector business norms clashing with government procurement and contracting rules.
Is Procurement Ethics a Belief System That Can Be Taught?
The issue is not instilling a moral compass or integrity in students and future government professionals – most have this quality prior to an immersion in public service. The challenge is navigating the unique environment of public sector transparency prescribed through federal acquisition laws to ensure that professionals do not inadvertently run afoul of these rules.
How do we adequately redefine work ethics meant to reflect the behaviors, desires, and attitudes of today’s government employees so that a strong standard can be established that stimulates positive views of solving public sector missions with private sector innovation? Confronting this problem head-on in the academic setting will help our future leaders to follow the correct ethical procedures when they begin to reshape our government in the future.
What should we be teaching government students about ethics?
I believe teaching students about government regulations, prioritizing best practices for business ethics and remaining in compliance with the Federal Acquisition Regulations are key learning aspects that form the foundation of any public policy curriculum, fostering the development of future government leaders. Moreover, helping students develop skills such as critical reflection, empathy, moral deliberation, and logical reasoning are also vital to instilling a solid ethical belief system.
About Amit Magdieli
Amit Magdieli is an expert in government management and efficiency. After successful stints in the private sector with PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM, Amit followed his passion to pursue a public service career. Known as a top-notch problem solver, he has held various management positions within the federal government. He is also an adjunct professor at Syracuse University